Is The Result Of This Systematic Review Of Teacher Merit Pay A Foregone Conclusion?

On March 1st 2013 it was announced at the Campbell Collaboration that a systematic review of merit pay (aka performance-related pay, bonuses, incentives etc.) for teachers was to be conducted this year.

Crystal ball

The title of this review is: Merit Pay Programs for Improving Teacher Retention, Teacher Satisfaction, and Student Achievement in Primary and Secondary Education: A Systematic Review, and the reviewers are Joshua Barnett, Gary Ritter, Nathan Jensen and George Denny.

To media academics such as Ben Goldacre, systematic reviews are “a clear, systematic survey of the literature, with the intention of getting all the…data you can possibly find on one topic, without being biased towards any particular set of findings” (2012, p.14).

However, consider this: Barnett, Ritter, Jensen (although not Denny) are already known as advocates for merit pay. For example, Barnett and Ritter (2008) write, “We contend that one of the most direct systemic changes we could make to reach this goal is to change the compensation structure for educators, moving toward some form of merit pay.”

Jensen and Ritter (2010) write, “Although these potential problems encouraged us to proceed cautiously, we do believe they can be addressed and avoided in a “good” merit pay program.”

Ritter (2011): “However, if teacher salaries were related to effectiveness, talented and self-assured individuals might be more likely to enter the profession and turn into excellent classroom teachers.

Indeed, the widespread use of merit pay has the potential to enhance the composition of the teaching corps at the front end and beyond. Over time, a well-designed merit pay system would send the right signals and foster a sort of “natural selection” whereby effective teachers, encouraged by annual recognition and rewards, would eagerly return to the classroom each year. At the same time, their less-effective peers would find teaching to be less financially rewarding and would thus work to improve their skills or seek out other career options.”

At least three of the reviewers (Ritter, Barnett, Jensen) then have written in favour of merit pay for teachers.

As there is quite clearly a potential conflict of interest here, the Campbell Collaboration document explains that “The authors have conducted primary research and published work on this topic area. However, the reviewers maintain that any potential conflicts of interest related to our work in this area will be counter-balanced by the explicit and transparent methods used to conduct the systematic review.”

‘Get all the data you can without being biased either way’? ‘Counter-balanced by the explicit and transparent methods used to conduct the systematic review’?

If you had to bet on the final outcome of this systematic review, where would you put YOUR money?

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